Today was our last full day and there some sweet but sad moments today. We started the day at 8:00 and ate a hearty breakfast including eggs, bagels, sopapillas, and everything in between. Then we packed lunches and snacks that consisted of sandwiches and fruit, for later in the day. We cleaned up and piled in the vans for a fun filled ride to White Sands National Monument. The van ride lasted for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The ride went by like a flash. Most of us sang, danced, and played cards, but some slept and recharged their batteries. We got to white sands around 11:45 and went to the visitor center. There, we went to the gift shop and browsed around for a few minutes before watching an educational video on how white sands was formed. We learned that it is the largest dunefield in the world covering 275 square miles. It was formed by the dust of gypsum that was blown by the wind and spread across the cite. We also learned about the different animals that come out during the day and the night. We learned about adaptation and natural selection, Mr. Frankel was right at home. When the video ended we headed for the dunes. When we got to the sand dunes, we found a secluded area where we ate our delicious sack lunches. We then trekked to the tallest and steepest dune we saw. We had brought sleds, so we could slide down the giant dunes. We rolled down, and jumped off the sand dunes until it started raining at 4:00pm. We got back into the vans and headed home. We were all tired after a long day of playing in the, but the ride home was still a ton of fun. When we got to the church, we ate a dinner of pasta salad and chicken. After dinner, we finished listening to the emotional leadership stories. Overall it was a fun experience and a great way to end an awesome trip.
We started out the day at 8:15 with a hearty oatmeal breakfast completed with sausage and fruit. We were running a bit late because of some misjudgment of how long it would take to clean the mongo pot. We then hopped in the van and headed to the border wall/fence. We spent time there talking about our favorite genres of music, and exploring the surrounding area. The fence dividing the border dominated the landscape behind a group of buildings. On the other side of the wall we could see a canal between the wall and the Rio Grande. Everyone started a lively game of groundies and basketball while we waited for the border patrol agent to arrive. When the border patrol agent arrived we sat down and listened to a short presentation about their day to day responsibilities. While they were giving a presentation a woman with two small children walked up to the wall and sat down. The agent noticed them and we later found out that they had been seeking asylum at the wall. The family had come from Honduras and a smuggler had just dropped them off. We headed to the van to take cover from the wind and visited a mural that had been painted to honor the 22 people that died in the Walmart shooting. We meandered back to the church and had a delicious home cooked lunch that consisted of Honduran beef stew and tostadas. We played a community building game that helped us to understand leadership roles before going to Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS). We met with a lawyer that helped us to understand the laws of immigration and how immigrants are processed. Our group found out that the process is long and complicated and we will be sure to share the details when we return home : ). Back at the church we spent time with Pastor Rose Mary honoring the people that bring light to our lives and the people that have made an impact on us this week. It was emotional and a bonding moment for our group. Then we went to a delicious Mexican restaurant and shared a fun meal while being serenaded by the mariachi group. The night ended with leadership stories helping to shed light onto our peers lives. Today was filled with facts, emotion, and fun.
-Colin, Danielle, Kai
Today we were able to sleep in a little bit, and ate breakfast at 8:15. After enjoying a tasty meal of proteinous eggs and sausage, we played a few games as a group. Next, Pastor Rose Mary talked to us about the conditions in the detention centers in which refugees are processed. Because of the influx of immigrants from Central America, most official holding cells are unable to accommodate these refugees, so most stay in small rooms that are only meant to hold small numbers of people for only a few hours; however, refugees stay in these rooms for around 20 days. The cells are inhospitable and are kept at severely cold temperatures in order to, according to border patrol, ward off disease. Immigrants are not supplied enough blankets to stay warm, and many have blisters on their lips and ears from the cold. There are often no mattresses, and so these refugees must sleep on the cold cement; many have bruises on the sides of their bodies from sleeping on the floor. In some cases, there is not sufficient space to lie down, forcing immigrants to sleep while standing up. In June, however, the Trump administration introduced a new policy known as MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol), which aims to reduce overcrowding along the US side of the border by sending immigrants to Mexico while they await their court hearings. Many of these immigrants have no support where they are relocated and often face gang violence, sexual assault, and inaccess to proper medical care and other resources.
Pastor Rose Mary also discussed how she and her church, among other organizations, help the refugees that remain in the US while they wait for their court cases. Following Trump’s enactment of conservative immigration policies, she began helping refugees to receive food, water, and shelter, especially after seeing other churches’ unwillingness to support these immigrants.
Pastor Rose Mary talked about some of the refugees that she has met. She recounted the many immigrants that experienced psychological trauma at the detention centers, and how some of them wouldn’t come out of their rooms for days. She also discussed how she helped to heal some of this trauma through small acts of kindness, while acknowledging that these immigrants have played an important role in her own self transformation.
Next, we split up into groups and walked around Downtown El Paso. Some people went to Starbucks, others purchased candy, and some bought cheap knockoff jerseys from a store on the Main Street. We met back at the parking lot and walked over together to the scenic El Paso Locomotives Stadium.
After having lunch back at Cristo Rey, students began to arrive for the after school program. Some people worked with these children, playing games and helping with their homework, some sorted through donations for the church, while others prepared dinner for our trip to Casa Vides, a branch of Annunciation House. They made tuna and Bolivian salads. Yum!
We arrived at Casa Vides where we spoke to a representative of Annunciation House who works there. Annunciation House provides a safe place for refugees to stay while they’re awaiting their court cases, much like Cristo Rey does. They have multiple houses in El Paso where refugees stay, but we visited Casa Vides, which is the smallest of these houses. We served them the tuna and Bolivian salads that students had prepared, and students had the opportunity to practice their Spanish and connect with the immigrant families staying there. You could feel the sense of community among the refugees and volunteers, and many students were impressed by the work Annunciation House and other organizations are doing to help these refugees.
After a long day in El Paso, our leaders surprised us with a trip to Baskin Robins! There were smiles all around as we enjoyed scoop after scoop of delicious ice cream. We went to bed on sugar highs but with many valuable experiences to share.
Desi, Brickelle, and Charlotte
Today was an early start at 5:30, waking up at the crack of dawn. Excited to dress in our fancy attire to attend the immigration court. Following breakfast, our group played an energizing game to begin the day. We then loaded the vans and packed up to head to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We first visited Peace Lutheran Church to meet with the Border Servant Corps Director, Kari. She explained the purpose of the church, to house refugees and provide shelter and resources. Kari also provided us with background information that would later help us in the court proceedings. She was enlightening and prepared us properly for Court.
Arriving at the District Courthouse of Las Cruces, we quietly entered the Tortugas Court Room. We were able to listen to the remaining minutes of a finishing case. The two proceedings we heard regarded, not entering at a point of entry, and entering again without permission after already being deported. These migrants being sentenced were held in shackles around the waist, wrist, and ankles, and appeared to be mainly men. This Judge went about cases with sincere compassion and in a timely manner. After the few minutes we observed, we had the opportunity to speak with Judge Garza. She informed us with more description of the Court process, and answered our questions. Proceeding our discussion, we were permitted to enter a second Court Room to hear more hearings, with different immigrants. This room contained many more immigrants, varying in ages from 18-50 years old. This experience enhanced our understanding of the process in which immigrants face.
On our journey home, we stopped at an authentic Mexican restaurant. It is interesting to see how the Mexican culture influences border towns. Here we enjoyed a unique cuisine while enjoying each other’s company. We then explored the nearby plaza and completed the meal with some local ice cream. Following we finished our journey home to Cristo Rey.
Arriving at Cristo Rey, we welcomed the children who partake in the after school program. While some played with the children, and helped them with their homework, others sorted incoming donations to the church. We then had dinner with an undocumented immigrant who then became a border networker for human rights. She told us her story and how her life has shaped her to become who she is today. The Border Network for Human Rights promotes human immigration reform and puts on an event called Hugs not Walls, located in El Paso.
We ended the night with creating our individual leadership stories that we will present to the group in coming days.
Ashley, Faith, and Ari
Today was our first full day in El Paso! We went to two different colonias, which are plots of land that many undocumented immigrants live on. The storyteller for the first one talked about her experiences living in the United States for the past 23 years. She struggled with family tensions, legal inquiries, and unfair treatment. Many of her family members live in Mexico, and this has caused her to struggle mentally and medically. She is struggling to pay for a surgery that she needs, and was very brave for sharing her story with us. She recently was able to get running water, a septic tank, and electricity, which many people still lack.
Between our first and second colonias, we had a quick stop to a local market. Many of us got sweet bread, among other pastries. We compared our own culture to that of El Paso’s. It was interesting to see how much El Paso has been influenced by Mexican culture. We stood in the parking lot, while eating our treats, and thought about how disappointed our parents would be if they saw us eating that much sugar.
Our second storyteller was a mother of three kids, two of which are undocumented and the other is a US citizen. They have had many struggles, but the biggest was when their father was deported and separated from his family for two-and-a-half years. The household dynamic shifted dramatically, and there were many instances when they could’ve lost hope. Finally, they were reunited, and she told a heartbreaking story about how desperate she felt while her husband was gone. We were able to ask questions to her and her daughter, who translated for us. It was interesting to see how differently they viewed the same story. One thing that really resonated with us was the idea that many immigrants come here to live, not to survive.
After the stories, we drove back to Cristo Rey church where we had a small break and were able to visit the nearby park. We played on the playground, the basketball court, and the field, as well as running and working out. We created strong bonds during this fun and exciting day.
Later in the evening, we took a short drive to an outlook viewpoint over El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. We could actually see the border line, the Rio Grande, and an immigration checkpoint, which was marked with a big red “X”. We took many pictures (as you can see) and watched the sun set over El Paso. We came back, talked through our day, and are ready for an early morning tomorrow!
Abby, Ana, and Claire
“THE REAL VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY CONSISTS NOT IN SEEKING NEW LANDSCAPES, BUT IN HAVING NEW EYES.” ~ MARCEL PROUST
We started off our amazing experience in El Paso with a circle where we all got to know one another and discussed the reasons why each of us wanted to be here with our two incredible guides, Laura and Jorge. It settled our nerves and got us off on the right path. Next, we drove to the church that we are staying in, dropped our bags off, and got settled. We then met Pastor Rose Mary, who talked to us about our trip, the community, and her past experiences with the program. Afterward, we enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal of rice, beans, cheese enchiladas, and salad, with some terrific desserts, prepared by members of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church. Following our cleanup, we had a short break to relax and bond as a group through card games and the like. Later, Jorge and Laura led us some exercises that allowed us to express our fears, concerns, and questions about the road ahead. We also discussed our goals for the trip: 1. Creating better bonds with people, 2. Be responsible, 3. Immerse, engage, and evolve, 4. Get a better understanding of immigration. This provides a useful base for us to build around throughout our journey. All in all, this first day may not seem important back home, but it was the crucial beginning that all of us needed in order to be open to new perspectives!
— Andrew Koclanes and J.T. Timmers